Welcome to the 2021-22 NHL season

NHL 2021-22
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The 2021-22 NHL season begins Tuesday night with a doubleheader. Before they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Tampa Bay Lightning will raise another Stanley Cup banner to the AMALIE Arena rafters. Following that game the expansion Seattle Kraken will make their debut on the road against the Vegas Golden Knights.

As we wait for puck drop, here’s what you might have missed during a short, but busy NHL offseason.

NEW FACES IN NEW PLACES

A whole slew of players changed teams in one night with the Kraken selecting their first roster during the NHL Expansion Draft in July.

When Free Agent Frenzy opened, so too did the wallets of many teams. The Lightning lost their entire third line with Blake Coleman signing in Calgary, Yanni Gourde going to Seattle in the expansion draft, and Barclay Goodrow being dealt and signing with the Rangers. The defending champions also watched defenseman David Savard, who was acquired at the trade deadline, sign in Montreal.

As the Bruins wait for Tuukka Rask to heal up, they’ll go with the goalie tandem of Jeremy Swayman, who got a cameo at the end of last season, and Linus Ullmark, who they lured from Buffalo.

Frederik Andersen and Petr Mrazek swapped places with Andersen heading to Carolina and Mrazek pairing up with Jack Campbell in goal in Toronto. The Hurricanes brought in Tony DeAngelo, who was bought out by the Rangers, and watched as Dougie Hamilton cashed in with a long-term deal in New Jersey.

St. Louis brought in Brandon Saad as a scoring winger, while Mike Hoffman left for greener pastures in Montreal.

Keith Yandle will attempt to set the NHL Ironman record in Philadelphia on a blue line that will also see Ryan Ellis, who spent the last decade in Nashville.

The Wild bit the bullet and bought out the contracts of both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. Parise landed with the Islanders, where he dad played parts of four seasons in the 1970s, and Suter inked a deal with the Stars.

After losing to the Lightning in the last two Stanley Cup Finals with two different teams, Corey Perry decided to join them on a one-year deal.

Zach Hyman cashed in with a rich deal in Edmonton and will be further rewarded playing on a line with either Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl.

Two future Hall of Famers and long-time NHL veterans were on the move this summer. Joe Thornton took his big, scruffy beard south to join the Panthers, while Zdeno Chara signed with the Islanders, the team that drafted him 56th overall in 1996.

Late in August, we had our first successful offer sheet since Dustin Penner in 2007. Two years after the Hurricanes matched the Canadiens’ offer sheet for Sebastian Aho, Montreal let Jesperi Kotkaniemi go to Carolina on a one-year, $6.1 million contract.

Summer time was also trading season for GMs. Rasmus Ristolainen went from Buffalo to Philadelphia; Pavel Buchnevich was dealt from the Rangers to the Blues; Seth Jones joins brother Caleb in Chicago after years in Columbus; Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Conor Garland were shipped to Vancouver from the rebuilding Coyotes for a packae that included Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson, and Antoine Roussel; Jakub Voracek heads back to Columbus with Cam Atkinson moving on to the Flyers; Robin Lehner is the unquestioned No. 1 in Vegas now that Marc-Andre Fleury is in Chicago; Tyler Johnson is also in Chicago after the Lightning moved him on to take Brent Seabrook’s cap hit; Darcy Kuemper takes over from Phillip Grubauer in the Colorado net; and the Rangers feel they’ve helped their Tom Wilsom problem by adding Ryan Reaves.

2021-22 DIVISIONAL ALIGNMENT

This season will see the return of an 82-game schedule and the divisional alignment we’re used to. There are two small changes, however. The expansion Seattle Kraken will begin their NHL experience in the Pacific Division while the Arizona Coyotes will move to the Central.

NHL

The Stanley Cup Playoffs will go back to its usual format with the top three teams in each of the four divisions qualifying plus two Wild Card spots per conference to fill out the bracket.

RETIREMENTS

There were a number of NHLers who played their final games last season, including Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne, and Ryan Miller. Joining them in hanging up their skates included Matt Calvert, Andrew Shaw, Niklas Hjalmarsson, David Backes, Carl Gunnarsson, J.T. Brown, and Stephen Johns.

Patrick Marleau, Brayden Coburn, and Eric Staal remain unsigned and may potentially join that list of retired players.

OUTDOOR GAMES, ALL-STAR WEEKEND RETURN

Outdoor hockey is back this season with three games outside once the calendar flips over to 2022.

Winter Classic – Jan. 1, 2022: Blues vs. Wild (Target Field, Minnesota)
Stadium Series – Feb. 26, 2022: Lightning vs. Predators (Nissan Stadium, Tennessee)
Heritage Classic – March 13, 2022: Sabres vs. Maple Leafs (Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton)

When the Maple Leafs and Sabres drop the puck in March the NHL will have played a total of 35 regular-season outdoor games in its history.

Along with outdoor hockey, All-Star Weekend is also coming back. T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas will host this season’s festivities. The weekend will also serve as a send-off for NHL players participating in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, China.

Feb. 4 – NHL All-Star Skills
Feb. 5 – NHL All-Star Game

Scott Rovak/NHLI via Getty Images

NHL BACK AT THE OLYMPICS

A year after promising the NHLPA that it would try its hardest to broker a deal for Olympic participation in 2022, the NHL finalized an agreement with the IOC and IIHF in September that will see players head to Beijing in February. It will be the first time NHL players take part in the Games since Sochi 2014.

The U.S. will be coached by Mike Sullivan of the Penguins, while Canada will see Jon Cooper of the Lightning behind their bench. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman is leading the management team of the Americans and Doug Armstrong of the Blues is heading up the Canadian group.

Here is how the 12 teams are grouped:

Group A: United States, Canada, Germany China
Group B: Russian Athletes, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Denmark
Group C: Finland, Sweden, Slovakia, Latvia

You can see the full round-robin schedules here.

There are two parts of the agreement that deals with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The first is all players participating in the Olympic tournament must be fully vaccinated. Also, if conditions worsen as February approaches, the NHL and NHLPA have the ability to opt-out of the tournament without financial penalty by January 10, 2022.

National teams will submit their “long lists” of players by Oct. 15 with final 25-man rosters announced in January. USA Hockey has previously announced its Olympic teams on the day of the NHL Winter Classic.

CRITICAL DATES

Oct. 12: Opening Night doubleheader with the Lightning raising their Stanley Cup banner vs. the Penguins and the Kraken playing their first regular-season game on the road against the Golden Knights.

Oct. 14: Blue Jackets to honor the late Matīss Kivlenieks. Rangers to honor the late Rod Gilbert.

Oct. 23: Kraken play first home game  at Climate Pledge Arena against the Canucks.

Nov. 12-15: Hockey Hall of Fame Induction Weekend (Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kevin Lowe, Doug Wilson, Kim St-Pierre, Ken Holland)

Nov. 20: Islanders host Flames in first game at UBS Arena

Dec. 7: Lightning vs. Canadiens in 2021 Stanley Cup Final rematch

Dec. 20-27: NHL holiday roster freeze

Dec. 26-Jan. 5: IIHF men’s World Junior Championship

Jan. 8-15: IIHF women’s U-18 World Championship

Jan. 17: Chris Pronger’s No. 44 jersey retired by Blues

Jan. 18: Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 jersey retired by Bruins

Jan. 28: Serge Zubov’s No. 56 jersey retired by Stars and Henrik Lundqvist’s No. 30 retired by Rangers

Feb. 7-22: NHL Olympic break

March 21: 2022 NHL Trade Deadline (3 p.m. ET)

April 29: Last day of 2021-22 NHL regular season

May 2: 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs begin

June 30: Last possible day of 2022 Stanley Cup Final

July 7-8: 2022 NHL Draft in Montreal

July 13: Free agent frenzy begins (12 p.m. ET)

Sidney Crosby
Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

MILESTONES

• Joel Quenneville: 39 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 38 wins away from reaching 1,000.

• Barry Trotz: 70 games away from 1,800 for his NHL head coaching career. 23 wins away from reaching 900.

• Zdeno Chara, Joe Thornton: 1 game away from becoming seventh and eighth players in NHL history to play at least one game in 24 different regular seasons. The others: Chris Chelios (26), Gordie Howe (26), Mark Messier (25), Tim Horton (24), Alex Delvecchio (24), Jaromir Jagr (24).

• Joe Thornton: 76 games away from passing Mark Messier (1,756) for third all-time

Sidney Crosby: 14 goals away from reaching 500 for his career.

• Keith Yandle: 43 games away from passing Doug Jarvis for the NHL’s Ironman record (964).

• Marc-Andre Fleury: 8 wins away from becoming the third goalie in NHL history to win 500 games.

Alex Ovechkin: 2 goals away from passing Marcel Dionne (5th); 12 goals away from passing Brett Hull (4th); 37 goals away from passing Jaromir Jagr (3rd). He enters this season 164 goals behind Wayne Gretzky’s record.

Ovechkin also needs 6 power play goals to pass Dave Andreychuk for the NHL record (274).

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.